It was ordained at the beginning of the world that certain signs should prefigure certain events. ~Marcus Tullius Cicero
Just as Martin Luther King Jr. has put it: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. A crisis is the single most difficult challenge for anyone, not just leaders. No one is ever ready for the unexpected. It is quite easy to hold the helm when the sea is calm by paying attention and knowing in which direction one is headed.
In today’s Nigeria, there is an omnipresent culture of bluster and bravado lurking around. It’s a game of pretence, and false promises. Many are laying claims to knowing what is wrong and how to resolve it. It’s the mindset of “I will give enough to look like I am performing above expectations whilst secretly cruising my way to the next role.” It is apparent that some leaders are only showing the tip of their performance iceberg, being content to sit on the fence, nod furiously and give every indication of leading the change.
Yet there are others who are naturally able to give 100 per cent of all of their time, irrespective of their position and irrespective of the crisis they are confronted with. They have an intrinsic ability to put the best of themselves forward, sometimes knowing full well that this won’t be rewarded in the short term or may never be rewarded. What it does show though, is the difference between bravery and bravado.
Dr. John Kayode Fayemi represents the latter. Back to back, as the governor of Ekiti State and Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, he has found himself in the middle of the nuances of leading in crisis moments. Again and again, he has displayed some rear leadership virtues in handling such crisis of monumental proportion to the chagrin of his detractors.
When the sea is not calm and going with the flow is not an option, Fayemi has constantly stepped up to take command. While some would wait for the storm to pass before coming out to show their superhuman bravado, Fayemi has consistently thrown himself into the storm, so much that even those who should know better and commend him for what he is doing have continued to throw arrows at him, trying to shoot him down and praying that he goes down with one or all of the crises.
Back to back, testy times keep visiting Nigeria this year. First the economic condition went on a downward trend and the governors had to engage the federal government in ensuring that the governance arrangement of all federation-funded investments recognize state governments as shareholders in the distribution of proceeds and decision making. Fayemi as the NGF Chair was at the forefront, and people wondered how he was able to wear the breastplate, despite his perceived affinity with the Presidency. This was followed by the security challenge, heightened by the farmers and herders at each other’s neck, killing and kidnapping the innocent people. Fayemi along with other governors in the Southwest rose up to the challenge, culminating in the setting up of a security network in the Southwest, codenamed Operation Amotekun. Initially, this did not go down well with the presidency.
Then there was a medical emergency created by the Covid-19 Pandemic, which struck the entire world. Again Fayemi, as the Ekiti Governor and NGF Chair did not shy away from expressing the vulnerability of everyone and leading from the front to ensure that proactive measures are taken to combat the pandemic in the country. Amidst the pandemic brouhaha, politics threw its own spanner in the works and, again, Fayemi had to be summoned to provide solution.
Still smarting from these, social upheaval in the garb of #ENDSARS erupted from among the youths in the country. Not known as someone to sit on the fence, Fayemi refused to put up any blamegame. He agreed that the youth had the right to ventilate and took their matter up at the national level. All these crept in like a thief in the night, challenging the leadership, stretching the thinking beyond permissible limit. Fayemi stood in the gap for both the leader and the led to ensure that none of the trying times consumed Nigeria.
Crises don’t just test our smarts; they test our characters too. We cannot control the crisis, but we can control how we respond. Leading in uncertainty requires us to embrace our vulnerability. It’s the perfect opportunity to be humble rather than arrogant and to collaborate with others rather than view them as competitors or minnows. So while some people are overwhelmed and confused, letting fear drive their actions, Fayemi has continued to take the bull by the horns, turning each crisis into a growth opportunity. Of course, Fayemi’s detractors are not happy he is constantly filling the gaps and getting it right.
Like him, hate him, or choose to remain indifferent, Fayemi has continued to speak the truth to power, despite being in power himself. He has refused to sugarcoat reality and opted not to minimize facts for anyone. His action has been faulted by some as carrying placard against himself, yet he remains unperturbed, believing it is only such true telling that can move the country forward. He tried as much as possible to convince others that they that are in power for a purpose and such purpose has made them responsible and accountable to the people. He has always been where the war is hottest, and did not worry about the arrows being shot at him even by those who should know better, appreciate and protect him from the rest. Fayemi keeps speaking “above the whispers” on how to clear the mess.
Leading in today’s Nigeria requires embracing vulnerability. It is the perfect opportunity to be humble rather than arrogant and to collaborate with others rather than view anyone as a competitor. Put succinctly, great leadership is not required when things go well and conditions are perfect. But when challenges appear, difficult situations arouse, and the people need support and direction, then, whoever comes up to serve as the breastplate is a great leader. In other words, real leaders are the ones that calm the turbulent sea, show confidence, and point the way out of it. Until that is achieved, superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn!
-Dipe is the Snr. Special Assistant to Gov. Fayemi on Public Communications.